Friends of Priory Park Warwick (FOPP) Open Meeting 27th February 2024


Dave Skinner (Chair), Andy Stewart (Secretary), Trevor Day (Treasurer), Angela Day, Ewan Davies, Johnathan Branson, Richard Bainbridge, Lesley Hall, Diane James, Sue Rigby, Mary-Ann Baynes, Tricia Scott, Mo Hooper, Jo Birkbeck, Peter Clemons, Paul Gerrard, Becca Woodbine


Nic Ruch, Judith Christopherson, Robin Christopherson


Dave welcomed everyone and thanked them for their attendance.


Dave then mentioned that the information leaflet covering the park had been re-printed by Warwick District Council (WDC) and copies are now available in the Visitor Information Centre. This is the leaflet that was originally produced in conjunction with Susan Clark. Diane queried whether WDC paid for the printing and Dave confirmed that was the case. Lesley asked whether the reprinted leaflet had been updated, and Dave said that it hadn’t for this issue but that it was worth looking into updating the leaflet for any future reprints.


Johnathan then provided a summary of the Festive Elf Door Trail. This was a re-run of the Pixie Door Trail which Johnathan had organised over the Easter 2023 period. Again the trail was a good success and Johnathan said that although he didn’t have firm data for the number of visitors to the trail, lots of families had been seen trying to locate the cunningly hidden doors. He also commented that positive feedback had been seen in the local press and on social media. Unlike the Pixie Trail, this time there had
been no damage to or theft of any of the doors although some of the doors appeared to have been moved slightly. As well as local families, doors had also been supplied by Warwick Nursery School and Coten End Primary School. Dave thanked Johnathan for his work in organising the Elf Trail and suggested that a similar activity could be organised later in the year. Johnathan replied that he thought that the WDC Green Spaces team were happy with this sort of activity being organised so hopefully approval would be granted for any such activities in the future.


The park usage survey was discussed and Dave said he would again put a link to the survey on the group’s Facebook page. He noted that approximately 65 responses had already been received online and that 20 responses had been received at the 2023 County Record Office (CRO) open day. Some of the comments included people wanting to see more wildflower areas in the park, with interest in more tree planting and tree walks as well sky watching. Dave said that the survey results reinforce the activities we are already undertaking. He also noted that although any future activities will be welcomed, that due to his commitments to Warwick Town Council, especially his forthcoming Mayorship that he will be extremely busy in the forthcoming year and so would be looking for support for any future activities that may be organised.


It was noted that like a lot of the surrounding area, the park is very wet which hasn’t helped with accessibility in the park and Dave has again raised this with the WDC Green Spaces team. Although currently only at the planning stage, it appears that the creation of the new Packmores Community Centre (funded by WDC and Warwick County Council (WCC)) will go ahead and as the location will be near the Priory Pools area (close to the existing centre), this has the potential to increase footfall into the park by way of what is at times an extremely muddy and slippy area. The old Priory Road medical centre building is to be used by the hospital for a dermatology unit and work is underway to convert the old building. There was some discussion about potential flooding in the proposed location for the new community centre, but apparently survey work concerning this has already been performed. Becca queried why the original Priory Pools had been filled in and it was commented that by the time they were filled in that they had basically turned into a dangerous and unsightly tipping area. Although it is a pity that the pools weren’t renewed rather than being removed, it was understood that it would be difficult and expensive to maintain the area and there was also the possibility of water based danger with children playing around the area.


Financial Report
Trevor notified the meeting that there is currently £170 in FOPP’s bank account, although Dianne Loftus is currently owed the token fee for hosting of the website. Dave said that he has some change which was collected on the last tree walk and he would supply this to Trevor. Trevor commented that although the group’s bank balance is currently healthy, no funds had been received recently.


Wildflower meadow update
Dave said that despite several notifications to the WDC Green Spaces team, the idverde maintenance team had not cut the new wildflower meadow at the end of the season as they had been requested to do by the Green Spaces team. It was also noted that idverde had also not fulfilled the requirement to complete the annual cut of half of the long grass in the park. Mention was made again of the ‘No-mow May’ initiative and the impact that this had had on green spaces maintenance. Dave said that Jon Holmes (WDC Green Spaces) has said that him and one of his team will try and get the wildflower meadow cut before it starts growing again although because of its location the area has been quite boggy recently and so Jon couldn’t promise that this work will go ahead. Lesley commented that the lack of mowing was a shame as the meadow was good last year although it is possible that the area as it currently is would have provided a suitable habitat for over-wintering invertebrates.


Lesley had had a meeting last year with Lucie Cox and it was agreed that currently, apart from some yellow rattle, there wasn’t a need to introduce any other plant species into the meadow area. The yellow rattle will form a semi-parasitic relationship with grass roots. This weakens the growth of the grass allowing other species to prosper. Lesley is hoping to obtain some yellow rattle seeds.


Mention was made of the couple of trees that had fallen near St. John’s Brook. Lesley said that they were willows which did have tendency to grow quickly and fail quickly. WDC Green Spaces team have partially cleared the fallen timber and this has opened more space near the Coventry Road entrance and it is possible that other plants may start growing in the cleared area.


Lesley hasn’t yet started the monthly survey of flower species that are growing in the meadow area but will commence this activity as growth restarts. By June 2023, she had identified 18 different species in the meadow area. Although the usage survey had suggested further wildflower areas in the park, Dave commented that he thought that it was best that if for the moment we concentrated solely on the current wildflower meadow. Lesley said that other areas of long grass already existing in the park will also have wildflowers growing in them. Johnathan asked whether Lesley would be happy if he were to produce a short video of her surveying the current wildflower meadow area. She commented that she doesn’t have a set time per month when she will be performing the survey but that she could liaise with Johnathan for this to be completed at a time that was suitable for both of them. Paul said that when the grasses in the meadow area start to flower that he was happy to survey the grasses in the area and also possibly the grasses found in the areas of un-mown grass elsewhere in the park.


Dave said that he still had the photos taken last year of insects identified in the wildflower meadow and that although he hasn’t yet organised uploading these to the FOPP website, he will attempt to progress this.


Town Council Grant
FOPP had previously been awarded a 3 year grant from Warwick Town Council (WTC) with this being used to support the funding of the FOPP website. Allocations under this grant completed last year. Dave had sent a further grant application for approximately £550 to WTC. This is to cover for the next three years the web site domain name hosting, insurance for the group and 10 logoed vests. This insurance will cover public liability and volunteer insurance and it was mentioned that this will likely require completion of a risk assessment and mitigation for any activities involving volunteers, with the volunteers needing to be briefed on the details of the risk assessment. This application has been granted. Dave has already obtained 3 quotes for the insurance policy and is going to go with PolicyBee who are currently providing our public liability insurance. He is also investigating a company on the Heathcote Estate who may be able to supply the vests. Trevor had brought the groups bank account cheque book as Dave needed a photograph of this to supply to WTC. Andy thanked Dave for his effort in securing this funding.


During this section of the meeting, the grant application to The Gardens Trust was mentioned. Had FOPP been awarded this grant it was to have been used to fund some non-intrusive geo-physical archaeology in the park by the archaeologist, Stephen Wass. Specifically this would have focussed on the ridges towards the top of the park (near the CRO) as well as the possibility of there having been a water garden / feature when Priory House was still fully standing. Historical water gardens are one of Stephen’s specialities. Dave and Diane had met with Stephen in September 2023 and he had produced more details of what the proposed work was intended to cover and this was circulated during the meeting. Unfortunately the application to The Gardens Trust was not successful, likely because although members of FOPP are volunteers, we are not especially focussed on history.


It was suggested that we may be able to obtain funding for this type of activity from Warwickshire Gardens Trust although if this were successful, it is likely that any sum assigned would be less than had been requested from The Gardens Trust. This would limit the amount of work that Stephen could complete, although it is possible that the use of volunteers could offset some of the shortfall. Dave said he would ask Stephen if the summary document he has supplied can be uploaded to the FOPP website. Diane mentioned that there may be other sources of funding such as the King Henry VIII charity. Johnathan suggested using such funding sources such as ‘Grant Finder’, but this would require us to have a clear idea of what we intended doing before applying for any such funding. It was suggested that any funding applications could be used to provide an information leaflet / boards covering the Priory Pool area. Dave said that he was happy to support any future grant applications, but as noted earlier, his available time will be quite limited so he would need to look for support with this from other members of the group. Diane said that she would be able to provide some assistance with any such applications. It was noted that FOPP have over 900 followers on Facebook, 50 – 60 people who have supplied us with their email addresses as well as attendees at our regular meetings and it may be possible to engage with these people to obtain support to pursue further grant applications. Johnathan suggested this could be progressed by the production of a newsletter to promote this as well the possibility of setting up a FOPP working party specifically to pursue further funding opportunities.


There then followed a short discussion concerning what sources used to supply water to Priory Pools and it was mentioned it was thought that any such sources were now diverted into possibly 3 culverts which flow under the railway embankment and into St. John’s Brook.


Dave mentioned that WTC were looking at updating and improving wayfinding around the town. This project is already progressing to the rollout stage and is currently going through WDC Planning. The suggestion of having information boards in the park is for a potential phase 2 of the wayfinding project. It was also mentioned that it is possible that ‘tower maps’ leading from the race course to the Emscote Road may be installed. Angela queried whether a floor plinth providing directions to Priory Park could be installed near one or more of the entrances to the park. Ewan commented about the improvements that are required to both the information boards and access routes from Priory Road. It was commented that it is possible that WDC do not see these access points as officially recognised entrances to the park and that if improvements to the access were to be progressed then these would likely to have to be in the form of steps leading from Priory Road into the park and once again lack of funding is likely to hinder any progress in this area. Lesley said that it is currently unlikely that we would be able to obtain any Section 106 funding from the redevelopment of the old Kings School site. Ewan suggested the possibility of having a tarmacked seating area at the top of one or more of the Priory Road entrances but the consensus was we probably shouldn’t be looking at tarmacking any areas of the park.


Johnathan mentioned a drop in session that is being held at The Court House in Jury Street on Saturday March 9 th from 10am until 4pm. This is an opportunity for residents to speak to the town clerk Jayne Topham and Aaron, a representative from WCC. The aim of this session is to allow residents to have their say on what works well within the town centre and what can be done to help improve it. It was suggested that this would be a good forum to lobby for improvements to Priory Park.


Possibility of labelling trees in Priory Park
Sue introduced herself and said that she is a member of the Unlocking Warwick volunteers group which is based at the restored Court House in Jury Street, helping to bring the building back to life as a hub of community activity and celebrating Warwick’s cultural heritage. At one of their meetings, an attendee had queried whether they could use some of their funding to either label any of the trees in Priory Park that are deemed as historic, or provide orientation boards providing information about the trees in the park. Lesley answered that some of the trees are labelled on the map on FOPPs website but that WDC are adamant that they were not in favour of trees being labelled, even if the labels were separate from the trees. Johnathan suggested that if orientation boards were provided, then QR codes on the boards could be provided to allow visitors to the park to obtain more detailed information or provide a self-guided tour in the park. Trevor commented about the risk of people replacing QR codes with unsafe links. Sue said that she is also the chair of The Friends of the CRO and that funding may be available from that group.


Tricia also introduced herself. As well as being involved with Warwick Unlocked as treasurer, she is also current chair of the Warwickshire Bat Group. Tricia suggested that we may like a bat walk organising in Priory Park with the Bat Group able to supply bat detectors. Due to bats nocturnal habits, a walk would start at sunset. There was some discussion concerning the age group that such a walk would be aimed at and it was agreed that due to potential issues around small children being in the park after dark, that the target age group should be 14+. It was also noted that due the issues involved in navigating Priory Park in the dark, that such a walk would probably not be suitable for anyone infirm. Tricia suggested the 24th August 2024 would be a good date for any such walk as that is International Bat Night. Dave said that we should look at getting further details concerning this walk nearer the proposed date.


There was some discussion about further tree planting in the park with a comment being made that rather than planting new trees, WDC appear instead to be focussing on thinning the existing trees such as in the arboretum. Lesley said that even when WDC had planted new trees they had been unsuitable, non-native redwoods. Dave mentioned that he and Lesley had cleared some of the undergrowth that was encroaching on the recently planted oak tree.


It was queried what species of trees people would like planting, with suggestions including dogwood and copper beech. Lesley noted that there is a copper beech tree towards the top of the park but that it was showing signs of bracket fungus infection although this is not necessarily terminal for the tree. Diane asked whether we could be looking at planting orchard type trees. Lesley said that she has a sapling from the original Cubbington pear and has tentative agreement from Jon Holmes that when it is of a suitable size that it could be introduced to the park, although the planting would likely not be permitted in the area of the park that is designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument. It was noted that any planting shouldn’t occur at the bottom of the park as that area does tend to periodically become water logged which can lead to disease in trees that are planted there. Lesley mentioned the fallen Paulownia (Empress / Foxglove) tree and the long shoot that had grown there last year, probably from the root stock of the fallen tree and that hopefully it will grow again this year.


Date of our next meeting which will be the 2024 AGM
The time and date of the AGM was set as 7pm on Tuesday 23 rd April 2024 with the location being as usual the Wild Boar, Lakin Road. Dave again thanked everyone for their attendance and then closed the meeting.